Most teams in the NHL have a few players on their roster who just don't fit the mold of the current team. These aren't necessarily bad players, but for whatever reason they just don't fit on the team.
Maybe it's because a club has too much depth at their position, maybe the player has fallen out of favor with the fans and needs a fresh start elsewhere or maybe they've just toiled away in the same city for too many years and feel it's time to move on. Sometimes a team is in a rebuild in midst of a player's prime, which is just about the worst situation to be in. When you're in your prime, you want to be competing for the Stanley Cup every year. When your team is rebuilding in your prime, odds are, your best chance at the Cup will only come in your mid to late 30s, when you're nowhere near the effective player you were five to 10 years prior.
In some situations, an aging player is approaching the end of his career and is on a team that isn't likely to win a championship. A change of scenery is the only chance this player has to achieve his childhood dream. Ray Bourque knew this in Boston, and so did the Bruins, which is why they gave one of the greatest players in the history of their franchise a chance to win the Stanley Cup by trading him to Colorado back in 2000.
Heck, even Kimmo Timonen got the break of his career by being traded to Chicago late last season, allowing him to win his only Stanley Cup at the age of 40 and quickly announcing his retirement.
Whatever the case, there's always a handful of these players peppered throughout the league. Today at TheSportster we pay tribute to all of them, from good teams and bad, with a list of players who, for whatever reason, would benefit from a change of scenery for the upcoming season.
15 Nazem Kadri
Everyone knows that fans in Toronto can get a little harsh even in the best of times, and these certainly aren’t the best of times for the Maple Leafs. With the departure of Phil Kessel, even more of the offensive burden will now be on Nazem Kadri.
Kadri has already been a lightning rod for criticism at various points in his young career, but things could potentially get a lot worse if Kadri and the Leafs stumble out of the gate. Many question if Kadri is even capable of carrying the offensive load for an NHL team. It’s fair to say he’d benefit from a move to a club with a little more high-end talent on its roster. Not to mention, being away from the media hotbed that is Toronto.
14 Scott Darling
Scott Darling is a lot older than people think; in fact, he turns 27 this December. He’s slowly developed into a solid goaltender for the Blackhawks, and now the only thing standing in his way of getting a chance to establish himself as an NHL starter is Corey Crawford.
Darling could probably benefit from a season or two as Crawford’s backup, but the issue is that Crawford’s contract pays him until 2020. If Darling is ever going to get a chance to be a starter in the next few years, it will likely be somewhere other than Chicago.
13 James van Riemsdyk
It may seem like I’m piling on Toronto—okay, I probably am—but I can justify them all. JVR’s career was going well in Toronto, as the various coaches he’s played for there had all anchored him to Phil Kessel on the top line. Now that Kessel’s gone, JVR will be skating with lesser forwards, and his production will probably dip.
JVR has three seasons left on his contract, but at 26 years old he’s entering his prime scoring years. A few good seasons of solid offensive production could go a long way in securing a long term deal with high dollars as a 29-year-old UFA. He has a better chance for this type of season elsewhere.
12 Andrei Vasilevskiy
While many players appear on this list because they’re struggling with their current teams, others appear simply because there are better opportunities elsewhere for them. Andrei Vasilevskiy fits into the latter category.
Many pundits see Vasilevskiy as ready to take on an NHL starting job, or at the very most one year away from that distinction. The only problem for Vasilevskiy is Ben Bishop. He’s signed for the next two seasons, and at just 28 years old he could very possibly earn another extension with the Lightning. Vasilevskiy would be better off trying to break into another team’s crease, as Bishop has proven to be quite reliable.
11 Eric Staal
Sometimes you’ve just been in the same place for too long, and the excitement of coming to the rink every day starts to wane. This could be the case with Eric Staal, who is coming off his worst season, offensively speaking, since his rookie campaign in 2003-04.
Staal is entering a contract year and has reportedly asked for an extension somewhere in the area of $9 million per season, which is a ridiculous ask for a player on the decline. This could simply be the first step to parting ways with the organization. GM Ron Francis will surely come back with a much lower counter-offer, but if Staal is unwilling to move off that dollar figure—by a substantial amount—then a change of scenery is due.
10 Mike Cammalleri
On one hand, playing out his career in New Jersey could be fun for Mike Cammalleri. He’ll likely be gifted all the offensive opportunities one could dream of, and he can live out his days in relative anonymity compared with what he had in, say, Calgary.
On the other hand, Cammalleri is now 33 years old and still without a Stanley Cup. He’s on a contract through 2018-19, at which point he’ll be turning 37. Considering that the Devils are an organization in shambles these days, I imagine Cammalleri would need a change of venue if he wants a shot at hockey’s holy grail.
9 Cam Ward
Cam Ward’s career as Carolina’s starter got off to an incredible start. He took over the top job during the 2006 playoffs, and was awarded a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts. For the past few seasons, Ward’s hold on the starting job in Raleigh could be described as tenuous at best. With the arrival of Eddie Lack, his grip on the position just got a little weaker.
Ward is still just 31, so it’s not like he doesn’t have some good years left. However, with Lack entering the picture in Carolina, something tells me that the Hurricanes are looking to him as their future goalie. If Ward wants to play starting minutes, perhaps a change of scenery would work out best for him.
8 Vincent Lecavalier
Perhaps it’s unfair to put Vinny on this list considering that last year’s drama revolved around him and now former head coach Craig Berube, but the experience likely soured Lecavalier’s attitude towards Philly overall and I’d be willing to bet he’d move if given the chance.
Last season, amid all of this “Lecavalier is a healthy scratch again?” drama, GM Ron Hextall tried his darnedest to find a trading partner for Lecavalier, but not surprisingly there wasn’t (and isn’t) much of a market for an over-the-hill 35-year-old center with a $4.5 million cap hit. Lecavalier might just be stuck in Philly.
7 Jonathan Drouin
Lightning fans will be all over me for this one, but hear me out. I’m not saying it’s in Tampa Bay’s best interest to trade the up-and-coming forward, but I am suggesting that a change of scenery could help Jonathan Drouin break into the league a little more quickly.
Tampa had the league’s most potent offense last season, and the top two lines (Stamkos/Callahan/Killorn and Johnson/Kucherov/Palat) last season were both so good that head coach Jon Cooper absolutely needs to keep riding these trios until they falter. Although Drouin has gotten a look on the Stamkos line in training camp, it's tough to say if he'll be able to dethrone Killorn on the top unit. Drouin’s game isn’t designed for bottom-six duty, so he’d be better off elsewhere—at least for the upcoming season.
6 Patrick Marleau
Patrick Marleau was drafted by the San Jose Sharks 2nd overall in the 1997 entry draft, right after current teammate Joe Thornton was selected by the Bruins 1st overall. Since then, Marleau has amassed 456 goals and 988 points, good for the franchise record in both categories. However, Marleau is still without a Stanley Cup, and at 36 years old his time is running thin. The Sharks still have a solid roster, but it’s a fair comment to say they’re on the downswing.
Marleau’s history with San Jose hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, either. Before Thornton was stripped of the captaincy prior to last season, Marleau suffered the same treatment prior to the start of the 2009-10 season. That’s probably all water under the bridge now, but it is entirely possible that he’s still a little offended that GM Doug Wilson asked him to waive his no-trade clause last summer.
Perhaps it’s just time to move on.
5 Tobias Enstrom
It wasn’t long ago that Tobias Enstrom was considered an elite offensive defenseman. Enstrom struggled in Winnipeg last season, and the longer the season wore on the further down the defensive depth chart he slid.
The Jets now have arguably three defensemen whose offensive skills currently rank above Enstrom’s (Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers). It would benefit Enstrom to move onto a team with less depth in the way of offensive defensemen. Maybe Edmonton? Boston? Who knows, but Winnipeg isn’t the ideal situation for the 30-year-old Swede.
4 Dion Phaneuf
Last Maple Leaf. Promise.
Make no mistake about it: Dion Phaneuf is the best defenseman on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has, however, attracted a fair bit of criticism over the past few seasons as fans have attacked the captain’s leadership abilities, and many have openly questioned if he’s worth anywhere near the $7 million cap hit he‘s costing the team (through 2021).
Today, the Maple Leafs are staring down a lengthy rebuild, and the blood-thirsty fans in Toronto will be quick to blame Phaneuf when things go south (and they will before they go north, believe me). For this reason, Phaneuf would benefit from a change of scenery to some place where he can hide from the media. Are the Panthers looking for overpriced D?
3 Shane Doan
Shane Doan is high on this list only because the guy has been slugging it out in the desert for almost his entire career with next to nothing to show for it. He’s 38 years old and he’s never kissed the Cup (sorry).
It’s rare that a player of Doan’s ilk spends his entire career with the same organization. In 1,394 games with the Jets/Coyotes, Doan has put up 898 points and has been the team captain for 12 years (currently the NHL’s longest-serving captain). However, it’s time for him to pull a Ray Bourque and head to a contender, or he’ll have absolutely zilch to show for an otherwise stellar career. I think it’s fair to say the Coyotes aren’t going anywhere before Doan turns 40 (unless, of course, they literally move to Seattle or Quebec City).
2 Nail Yakupov
Nail Yakupov has been somewhat of an enigma since being drafted first overall by the Oilers in 2012. He’s by far the most polarizing player among Oilers fans; some want him traded, while others want him to be given more of an opportunity to succeed in Edmonton.
Yakupov regressed under former head coach Dallas Eakins, so maybe it will be a different story with Todd McLellan at the helm. However, with wingers Anton Slepyshev and Leon Draisaitl already getting a look on McDavid’s right side during camp before Yakupov, perhaps the young Russian needs change of scenery if he wants top-six forward ice time.
1 Joe Thornton
The highly public spat between Joe Thornton and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson last season is the main reason Big Joe is number one on our list. Wilson was holding a Q and A session with season ticket holders last March and was asked about stripping Thornton of the C prior to the start of the season.
“He cares about the game so much. The reason we took the ‘C’ off him… Joe carries the weight of the team on his shoulders, and he’s got such a big heart that when stress comes on him, he lashes out at people,” Wilson said, according to David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News.
Thornton understandably didn’t appreciate his GM saying such things in a public forum, and he fought back. “I think Doug just needs to shut his mouth. I think that’s the bottom line,” quipped Thornton.
You have to imagine that both Thornton and the Sharks would benefit from a parting of ways; not to mention that the Sharks seem to be on the decline, and the Stanley Cup-less Thornton, now 36, would probably like to hoist that thing before he hangs ‘em up.